What will we invent after we invent everything that can be invented?
Artificial intelligence stands to be the most radically transformative technology ever developed by the human race. As a former artificial intelligence entrepreneur turned investor, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of this technology: where it’s taking us and how our lives are going to reform around it. We humans tend to develop emergent technologies to the nth degree, so I think there is a certain inevitability to the far-out techno-utopian visions from certain branches of science fiction — it just makes common sense to me and many others. Why shouldn’t AI change everything?
While we’ve come a long way in this particular field, the current situation resembles a camp of explorers perched at the base of a mountain — the only way forward from here is up. We already have some compelling use cases for this technology in science and business today, and there are even a number of consumer products boasting artificially intelligent “brains” inside them.
But all the cool stuff that captures our dreams and imaginations — conversational computers with general intelligence, for example — is on the other side of this figurative mountain. It’s time to start climbing.
At the risk of speaking in generalities, here’s how I forecast our weird, unknown future where AI is simultaneously very advanced and very mainstream. Things are going to be completely different from what we know today, but these changes are distinctly positive, not negative.
There’s going to be a new understanding of ‘normal’
A world of widespread AI systems and services won’t closely resemble the one we live in now. Someone mindlessly conversing with Siri on the sidewalk gets eyeballs from strangers for seeming oblivious to the organic human life around them. But the proliferation of high-charged AI technology will mean that everyone will talk to their machines all the time. “After all, they understand us,” will go the reasoning.
This change won’t be limited to our personal technology — we’ll start seeing public interfaces for it as well. Imagine your Uber robotic flying cars will automatically know where you want to go without you having to type anything. Imagine never having to carry a wallet around ever again, because your money and identity will be based on facial recognition and other biometrics. As we go further out, we might not even have to speak anymore, instead exchanging thoughts and precepts with other humans or AI agents directly, using via neurotechnology like brain-computer interfaces.
There’s basically no corner of human work or life that will be left untouched by widespread AI. The future is gonna be wild.
Virtual assistants will become more like friends or collaborators
We have a clear speculative example of what this will look like in the 2013 Spike Jonze movie Her. Joaquin Phoenix’s character lives in the near-future and falls in love with his Siri-like virtual assistant. When a piece of technology is sufficiently advanced that you to interact with it on a daily basis, it remembers everything about you, and it anticipates your needs, then the simple term “virtual assistant” falls short rather quickly. It might better be referred to as a team member, co-founder, partner, or collaborator. And we’re going to have lots of them, multiply our efficacy across spheres of work and life.
Simply put, we’re going to trust future iterations of Siri in ways that probably don’t make sense right now. By talking to a computer, we know we are free from the fear or judgment we would surely face if we were talking to a person. These artificially intelligent entities will optimize our lives and be a reflective lens for our lives — just like the friends and family we have today.
We’ll have to reckon with our morality and the goals of the human race
Is it moral to augment our abilities with technology if we use those enhanced abilities to end suffering? This isn’t some half-baked grad school discourse, but a question that deserves our thoughtful consideration. AI methods and technologies are improving on a daily basis, so there’s a moral and ethical reckoning waiting for us right around the corner. We’ll have to answer questions exactly like this one sooner instead of later.
“Morality” broadly refers to the lowest common denominator of appropriate behavior for the planet’s 7.5 billion people. This is a suboptimal understanding of such an important concept because it allows for massive suffering, but if we had access to a higher level of intelligence, we could use it to address and end that suffering.
I think we’ll furthermore see the end of the 40-hour workweek, and I’m not even talking about grand political ideas like basic income. The nine-to-five paradigm is a myth that was invented by humans, and it tends to stand in the way of us achieving personal goals and ambitions. With a new brand of intelligence automating low-level cognitive tasks across the board, we’re going to inevitably generate more downtime in our workdays. This will leave us free to let our minds wander and plumb our innately creative depths, instead of agonizing over meeting arbitrary KPIs. There’s an essential “unlocking” waiting for humanity right around the corner, and AI is going to help us get there.
There are new developments in the artificial intelligence arena every week. As we continue inventing everything we can here, we’re building a future that will flourish with human convenience. If humanity is splintered with a thousand shards of desire, AI is going to help us pick up the pieces and move in a united, cohesive direction.